Worst. Translations. Ever.

The Lord of the Rings: Critique of the Two Chinese Translations was "a thesis submitted to the Graduate Institute of Translation and Interpretation Studies, Fu Jen Catholic University" by one David van der Peet. And when he says "critique", he doesn't mean it in the wishy-washy European sense:

I was looking forward to the Chinese translations of The Lord of the Rings, and have to admit they both turned out to be a bitter disappointment, unable to bring the fascinating secondary world of Middle-earth closer to readers in Taiwan. I hope this critique will give the interested reader an idea of the sheer width of Tolkien’s imagination, and thus rekindle an interest in his works that may very well be smothered by the Chinese translations of his works so far.

The first third is scene-setting which will be of little interest to anyone already familiar with Tolkien, but the actual critique is a jungle of detail, so lush and anal that it could awaken the slumbering Comic Book Guy in anyone. There are glorious, unmistakable blooms of error, like translating the "league" of "40 leagues" as if it were the "league" of "Justice League of America"; but there are also places where I feel his case is insufficiently made, correct as it may be.

(For example, I have no reason to doubt that it is inelegant translationese to start a Taiwan-style Chinese sentence with 立即, but van der Peet's argument isn't really developed beyond "LOL 立即 AMIRITE".)

Also: Mark T. HOOKER's take on the thesis, and as a special bonus, here's self-proclaimed "sf fan, Tolkien fan, [and] dink" ITAKURA Mitsuhiro's take on the Japanese translation by SETA Teiji and TANAKA Akiko.

"Bree" is a Celtic word for "hill", but also means soup and gruel in Scottish. In the first edition of "Yubiwa Monogatari", Bree was translated as "Kayu Mura" (Gruel village), and later it was revised to katakana name "Burii Mura". There are quite a few die-hard first-editioners who refuse the revision and stick to "Kayu Mura".

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What a travesty. Everyone knows that reading Tolkien in translation is foolish. It should always be read in its original Klingon edition.


When I read the mainland translation of LotR in the course of writing a paper on the treatment of alien/foreign languages in Chinese fantasy/SF, I came away with a similar impression to Mr. van der Peet's.

Nitpicking translations is great fun. A few months ago there was a beautiful evisceration of the Neuromancer.zh on a site devoted to exposing poor translation (at least until they stopped updating). The sort of errors that occur in Gibson there and Tolkien here raise questions as to how much the translators really understood of the work in question.

The confusion over "league" and "bree" reminds me of an early pirate edition of Order of the Phoenix that interpreted the title as "Command of the Phoenix" (凤凰令 vs. 凤凰社). It circulated widely enough that it's seen by many as a valid title rather than a mistake - it refers to the order that the Phoenix society issued to bring all of the members together. Oddly, Baidupedia blames it on Hong Kong.


Hey, nice links! I think it's pretty clear that the translators in this case had only the vaguest grasp on the texture of the work, even if they did get the general idea.

Re "Command of the Phoenix" -- Reminds of me of "Norwegian wood", which was first translated to Japanese (when the album was released here, I guess) as if it meant "Norwegian forest". Then came Murakami Haruki...


"LOL 立即 AMIRITE" made me lol.

Mark S.:

The critique is on a site that appears to be associated with Lucifer Chu (Zhū Xuéhéng / 朱學恆), whose own relatively recent translations of LOTR helped him reap buckets of money -- much of which he has used for public projects, such as translating parts of MIT's OpenCourseWare into Mandarin.

I met him at a conference a few years ago. But I've never tried to evaluate any of his translations.

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